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    7 Fears I Had About Therapy That Never Came True

    I thought my problems weren't "real" enough.

    If you're considering going to therapy for the first time, it's only natural to have some concerns: What exactly happens in the room? Do I have to talk about my childhood?? Will it even help me???

    Those concerns certainly came up for me when I decided to start therapy for my anxiety a few years ago. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do for my mental health, I had doubts about whether the experience would really benefit me and worried about how the sessions would make me feel. Now that I've seen how incredibly healing therapy can be, I'm hoping to shine some truth on the misconceptions that often fuel a person's stress about beginning the process.

    Here are some of the most common fears I experienced before I first went to therapy, and how things really turned out:

    1. I didn't think a therapist could tell me anything I didn't already know about myself.

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    Yeah, but I know the things that stress me out, so I can work though this myself — that's what I said when a loved one suggested I consider counseling after she heard I was burning out, hard. I couldn't see how a therapist who barely knew me could offer any insight into my life. The deaths and illnesses in the family, my coming out, my work stress — I'd run through it all a thousand times in my head. I knew every twist and turn by heart. There's no way a stranger could shift my perspective on things that are so ingrained at this point, right?

    HOO BOY, was that very much not correct. Sure, I knew myself and the events of my life well, but my therapist was able to connect dots I'd never seen, challenge negative thoughts I believed to be true for years, and ask questions that opened new ways of thinking about my past. You don't realize how blinded you are by your own biases — by the stories you tell yourself over and over about your life — until you talk to a third party who can see it all with fresh eyes.

    2. I pictured the therapist taking furious notes while I laid on a couch sobbing.

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    I can blame this assumption on TV and movies, I guess. I've had a therapist who took notes here and there, and I've had one that didn't take any notes at all. I've sat on a couch every time, sure, but always sitting upright, and never sobbing. So, if you're scared that your sessions are going to look like a cliché New Yorker cartoon, fear not! You can plant yourself on that couch however you please, and your therapist won't necessarily be scribbling on a notepad for 45 minutes straight either. I've found that it's much more casual than I ever imagined.

    3. I feared my friends and family wouldn't understand.

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    Although it's not as strong as it used to be, there's still a pervasive stigma around going to therapy — that it's just for "crazy" people, that it's weak to ask for help in this way, that it's brainwashing or head-shrinking. This socio-cultural image we've created of therapy as failure is enough to deter anyone from seeking the professional treatment that could greatly help them navigate stressors or, in some cases, save their life. It's really no surprise that I felt ashamed when I started seeing a therapist, and embarrassed when I started to tell people.

    Except, the more people I told, the more I discovered they were already in therapy or considering starting. Best friends! Cousins! My boss! They shared their own experience or wanted to hear about mine because they needed a kick in the butt to get started. All it takes is one person who's willing to start the conversation in order for people to come out of the woodwork with their own therapy experience and normalize what should be seen as a smart, sensible practice.

    4. I didn't feel like my problems were "real" enough to benefit from therapy.

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    This is another effect of the stigma around therapy — it's often seen as something reserved for those with severe mental illness. In turn, I thought my everyday stressors and traumatic experiences from my childhood didn't count or weren't pressing enough to warrant professional help. Even though I was seriously spinning out at the time, I still believed I could get through it on my own.

    Once I swallowed my pride and went to therapy for the first time, my therapist recapped: "So, you just moved in with your boyfriend, you're overworked, and you grew up in the closet with a parent with a disability. Tom, any one of those things would've been enough to come in!" She totally challenged my thinking that my problems weren't "real" enough to ask for help, and reminded me that no matter what I'm going through, if it's on my mind, it's worthy of discussion.

    5. I imagined talking about my trauma would only make me feel worse.

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    How could reviewing all of your most painful experiences help you feel calmer or happier??? It's a wild concept to grasp at first, and I imagined reliving those memories would just push me even further down a dark hole. But the thing is: As scary as it is to share those memories out loud, once you do, they have so much less power over you. They can transform from frightening, warped images in your mind into a conversation that tames and organizes them.

    There are certainly times when I leave a session and want to crawl into bed for at least two years, but more often than not, getting the chance to speak with someone about experiences that have bothered me for years is more freeing and uplifting than I thought possible. It takes time, but their grip does loosen.

    6. I expected to be embarrassed by the memories I shared.

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    I wasn't just scared to revisit my memories because of the emotional pain they could cause, but also because I thought, you know, they would sound ridiculous coming out of my mouth.

    "Why are you laughing?" a therapist once asked me.

    "I don't know...it just feels silly to be bringing this up after, like, 15 years."

    "It's not silly if it's affecting you," she reassured me.

    That's what it comes down to, really. Nothing is too tiny, too stupid, or too old to dust off and discuss if it's causing you some level of distress. Therapists have literally heard it all, which is what I remind myself whenever I'm nervous to bring up something potentially embarrassing.

    7. I thought it was too late to heal.

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    It is possible to process trauma. That may be the greatest lesson I've learned from therapy. Going into it, I had hope that I could heal from struggles I faced growing up, but I also had my doubts. What's done is done, I thought. Will talking about it now really change anything?

    Surprise! It did! I've spoken with therapists about things have happened five, 10, and 20 years ago, and by digging into these experiences until we find the root of why they've impacted me, I've been able to heal. Whether it's memories from being in the closet or sadness around losing relatives, giving myself the time and space to finally process my emotions has helped me reframe my thinking and put so many lingering feelings to rest. So, once more for the people in the back: IT IS POSSIBLE TO PROCESS TRAUMA. Believe that.

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